Bruins

Bruins in good spot, but 'a lot of hockey left to be played'

Bruins in good spot, but 'a lot of hockey left to be played'

BOSTON – The Bruins have been red-hot for almost two months and that epic run has vaulted them into a playoff spot that’s going to be very difficult to lose over the second half of the season.

The B’s are in second place in the Atlantic Division with games in hand on every team in the Eastern Conference. They hold a commanding nine-plus point lead over a lackluster rest of the division.

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If the Bruins only win half of their remaining 44 games (which really doesn’t seem likely given the way they’ve played), they would still be at 94 points and very much in the mix for a playoff spot. If they play any better than .500 hockey the rest of the way they’re assured of a playoff spot, and a big chunk of games against Montreal and Florida in the second half gives them a good chance to deal death blows to both of those teams as well.

So with things going Boston’s way, it might be easy for the Bruins to begin putting it in cruise control moving forward. That’s something the Bruins players are actively looking to avoid with a whole half-season left, and with so many youthful players they might just be able to do it with so many players new to this playoff race thing.

“We understand that we’ve got something good right now, and we just want to do everything we can to keep it rolling,” said rookie Jake DeBrusk. “We’re starting to find our identity and I think it’s about staying consistent. We’ve done a good job in the standings, but there is still a lot of hockey to be played.

“We understand that it’s just going to get tougher, and the ‘real season’ is coming up. We need to be ready for it, stick with the game plan and have all of us help out pushing the sled.”  

At this point, the Bruins just want to ride out a stretch that’s seen them win 16 of their past 21 games, and take points in nine consecutive games headed into this weekend’s games vs. Carolina and Pittsburgh just ahead of the five-day bye. Even B’s head coach Bruce Cassidy admitted that it’s tough to find much at fault in the all-around way the team is playing right now.  

“When things are going well, I don’t know if you don’t see your weaknesses or you say ‘Well, we’re getting away with them.’ There are some in there and [the players] aren’t perfect, but you also want them to feel good coming to the rink. You always want to do that even when you’re losing, and try to make it enjoyable coming to the rink,” said Cassidy. “Now we’re trying to build on things we’re doing well as opposed to fixing things you aren’t.

“Then all of a sudden you get slammed and you realize you’ve got to get back to work. That’s generally how things work when you’re going well. Right now we’re enjoying it, but there’s still a thought we have things to fix.”

Here’s the reality for the Bruins, however.

They need to bank points in this stretch where the team is healthy and able to take advantage of breaks in play thanks to the five-day bye and the All-Star break weekend. After that, the Bruins have a difficult, condensed schedule that sees them playing a crazy 16 games in March.

The points will be more difficult to come by at that point in the schedule and undoubtedly their cushion will shrink a bit as the Canadiens, Panthers and Red Wings make their respective pushes for the postseason. It might be easy for the Bruins to rest on their accomplishments over the past two months given their current place in the Eastern Conference playoff pole position, but there is still work to be done as they're finally firing on all cylinders.

Jarome Iginla practices with P-Bruins

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Mark Divver

Jarome Iginla practices with P-Bruins

Jarome Iginla skated with the Providence Bruins in the AHL team's practice on Tuesday, according to the Providence Journal.

Iginla doesn't want to retire yet. But he's not necessarily going to get a shot in Boston. The Bruins aren't interested in signing the 40-year-old winger, but instead wanted to do him a favor, a source told the Providence Journal.

"I'd love to still play," Iginla told the Providence Journal. "This is kind of the first step, getting out here and seeing how it is. … I wanted to see if I can still go. I don't have any deals at this point."

Iginla has had a prolific career with 525 goals and 570 assists (1,095 points). During his 2016-17 season, he spent time with the Colorado Avalanche and the Los Angeles Kings. He played in 80 games, and finished with 14 goals, 13 assists and a minus-30 rating.

Bruins' defense, goaltending enjoys mini-breakthrough against Flames

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USA TODAY Sports Photo

Bruins' defense, goaltending enjoys mini-breakthrough against Flames

Here’s what we learned in the Bruins 2-1 overtime win over the Calgary Flames at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Monday afternoon.

1)      Once again the Bruins were challenged and provided the perfect response. After giving up 15 goals in their previous four games and getting blown out by Vancouver last weekend, the Bruins recognized their defensive game had slipped in all zones. Their defensive layers had disappeared up and down the ice, the fore-check had gone missing and the D-zone coverage was leaving big holes in the slot and in front of the net. The Bruins weren’t working particularly hard, they were making some pretty elementary mistakes and they were allowing opponents to gain way too much speed and momentum entering their zone. All of that changed against Calgary after a spirited practice on Sunday, and the Bruins allowed just four shots on net in the first period against the Flames. They went on to allow just a single goal in the game, and kept grinding until they took a 2-1 win in OT. Hand-in-hand with the B’s defense responding was the Bruins goaltending situation responding to the challenge as well. Tuukka Rask hadn’t been particularly good in recent losses to the Buffalo Sabres and Canucks over the last week, and he wasn’t getting the support in front of him either. That added up to a lot of goals allowed and getting yanked in the Canucks loss amid some poor rebound control. Rask was locked in from beginning to end on Monday afternoon, and made five show-stopping saves in OT prior to Brad Marchand’s breakaway game-winner. What’s impressive is that it took just one bad loss for the B’s to totally snap back into place. There are times when it can take three, four or even five games for a hockey club to shed their bad defensive habits, but the Bruins did it immediately and haven’t lost back-to-back games since November. That is simply amazing at this point, and a testament to the coaching staff and the players. 

2)      In addition to the Bruins defense and goaltending responding, it was impressive to see Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak respond with big goals as well. Neither player was very good in the blowout loss to Vancouver, and Pastrnak had been mired in a bit of a slump with just one goal in his last 11 games headed into Monday afternoon. Both players have been targeted and thumped pretty solidly by opponents just as they were down the stretch last season as well, and they hadn’t really responded in an effective way until Monday. Even into the playoffs last season, Pastrnak really struggled to respond to some of the elevated intensity and physicality that he saw. Pastrnak scored in the first period on a nifty play aided by a Patrice Bergeron active stick against the side boards, and he enjoyed a number of scoring chances against the Flames. Marchand had seven shot attempts that culminated with his breakaway in overtime for the game-winner, and he was also engaged and physical throughout while both he and Matthew Tkachuk tried to “out-punk” each other on the ice. With a Bruins team that’s going to need their top line to produce regularly for them as the games get tighter, Monday’s mini-breakthrough was an important sign that Marchand and Pastrnak are ready to fight through some of the resistance thrown their way.

3)       Monday’s win also saw the Bruins once again drop the gloves to defend one of their teammates. On Saturday night it was Brandon Carlo sticking up for David Pastrnak, and on Monday afternoon it was Adam McQuaid dropping Garnet Hathaway after he took a shot at Charlie McAvoy right in front of the Bruins bench while practically inviting No. 54 to get involved. The Bruins will need to continue to bring their immediate reaction to borderline hits and opponents taking runs at their players, and that starts with McQuaid and trickles down through the rest of the lineup. Team toughness, they call it.

Plus

*Brad Marchand finished up with the sweet, little backhanded five-hole goal on the breakaway in overtime, and played an excellent overall game with seven shot attempts and plenty of active, engaged play all over the ice in 20 plus minutes of action. 

*Tuukka Rask stopped 28-of-29 shots against Calgary and was solid throughout the game. But he was amazing in the overtime session when he was turning away Grade-A chances from Johnny Gaudreau and Sam Bennett at one end while making five stops overall in the extra session. That little stand-on-his-head routine bought the B’s enough time for Marchand’s game-winner at the other end, and he certainly carried the Bruins to the extra OT point this time around. 

*Four shots on net and an eye-catching three blocked shots for David Pastrnak in 18:38 of ice time, including the game’s first goal in the first period when he curled to the net and beat Dave Rittich low with a shot. 

Minus

*Michael Frolik finished as a minus player for the Flames, and had the turnover to Patrice Bergeron in the first period that led directly to David Pastrnak’s goal. It was a pretty well-played game, so those little mistakes really stood out for either side. 

*Two giveaways and a minus-1 in 22:49 of ice time for Dougie Hamilton, who pretty much had a nothing game in a reminder to Bruins fans that they upgraded when they made Charlie McAvoy their No. 1 defenseman of the future. 

*No shots on net in 12:54 of ice time for Jake DeBrusk, who didn’t seem to have the same jump to his game on Monday that he did last weekend in Vancouver. He may have been saving it for Edmonton, where he grew up and certainly wants to put on a show on Tuesday night.